The One That Wasn’t To Be

You’ve spent months prepping for the most intimidating challenge you’ve ever faced. You’ve prepped yourself as best you can mentally and physically. You are ready as you’ll ever be to swim 10,000m in a chilly Windermere. 

Then this happens:


Well, shit. 

I’d been obsessively checking the weather for a few days but Brian and myself were more concerned with Saturday for my cycling adventure and his 25km fell race at Keswick Mountain Festival. Sunday looked breezy but ok! Until I studied it again and saw wind gusts of over 30mph. Ah. Not terribly ideal for swimming in a huge body of open water. 

Bollocks. 

The email from Great Swim said that they wouldn’t be able to accommodate the longer events on the Saturday, but they would happily let us swim a mile. 

My initial reaction was total, utter disappointment. I have trained my arse off. I really have worked so hard for this. It’s like training for a marathon, travelling down to it and then being told it’s cancelled but please feel free to do a lap of this here park. 

Meh. 

I never make excuses. I finish what I start and I give it my all. I have happily never been in this situation, but I absolutely understand safety protocols and experience swimmers are ingrained with respect for open water. It can be a formidable beast. I think the only reason I didn’t descend into a Bean-Strop-Tantrum was because: this was no ones fault. Mother Nature decides. Mother Nature wins. 

Witnessing my heartache, Brian gave me a hug and we set about making alternative plans. 

Luckily, i had been advised by my lovely friend to stay in Ambleside. This turned out to be the saving grace of the weekend. Brian could drive to Keswick and do his run. I’d skip the spectating (it was POURING so this was FINE) and I would spend the day exploring Ambleside (also in the rain though) until I could wander down to swim in the afternoon. (Still in the rain) 

At least I’d get a chance to kick the arse off this smaller distance. As coach said “at this point you could fart out a mile”…… Even if it is only a SIXTH of what I’m capable of. I could do it justice and earn some bling. 

We woke up and had breakfast(s) with our lovely hosts. The rain battering off the sky-lights in their gorgeous kitchen. No tops of any hills visible. 

Brian set off with all his kit to tackle some insane Cumbrian fells and I decided to go for a walk up the falls. 

I wasn’t disappointed. This is such a beautiful part of the world. 


Note: Those pictures appear bright. However the light belies the truth. I was very much wetter than after 10km in Windermere. I was soaked. Despite quality waterproofs. I. Was. Soaked. 

I wound my way down into the village and stumbled upon a small cafe. As I trudged in, the young girl serving smiled and said “you definitely need cake” and proceeded to bring me a perfect latte and, quite probably, the best Victoria Sponge I will ever taste. 

To reach Peak Cake at 31 is sad. But I swear I will not let my attempts to find a better cake end here. No no. I shall continue upon my cake quest. 


I digress.

I wandered back up to the B&B where I was served home made soup and bread while we checked on Brian’s progress. He’d made excellent time and reported that he was still alive. 

Once it hit 2.30, I slowly set off and began the 45 minute walk to the start. It was still wet. My clothes were soaked but I was on my way for a dook anyway so fuck it. Off I went. Soggy. 

As I walked along the side of the lake I could see how choppy the water looked. The winds had started to pick up and for the first time I felt relief that I wouldn’t be having to pick my way through that for 3 hours on Sunday. 

Of course…. Due to Sunday’s cancellations, they had amalgamated TWO DAYS of swimmers into one. Those that could/wanted to swim the mile were allowed. The email stated that you should bring your original cap and chip straight to check in and go. 


No problemo. Or so I thought. 

I got changed. Couldn’t find my chip. Spent 8 frantic minutes searching before it mysteriously reappeared beside me, popped my bag in check in and made my soggy way to the start. I watched the wave before mine set off. I watched about 6 people miss their chance to swim through what I can only describe as sheer ignorance. Marshals were shouting them over but they were too busy faffing about to notice. Then they got shitty with the marshals. Silly, silly swimmers. 

They open your wave check-in 30 minutes prior to your start time. I was organised and one of the first through the gate. Except I was being pulled aside. Uh oh. WHAT HAVE I DONE.  “You need a pink cap for this wave.” Said the girl. I must have looked beyond confused.  “You need to go to Race Information which is over there”. She pointed to a tent about 50 yards away. Across stones. I was barefoot. Nice. 

I now refer you back to the above email. It was LIES. Not so amazing from Great Swim who usually have faultlessly slick communication. 

I had to peg it across stones in bare feet to the girl in the customer services tent who hurriedly handed me a new pink hat. Sakes.  I didn’t need that stressful few minutes at all. 

Finally through check in, I could get my fecking pink cap on and warm up in acclimatisation. Or cool down apparently. Windermere was 15.5 degrees. No colder than I’m used to but I’d have preferred something a little warmer having made the effort to travel for this race. 

Keri-Anne Payne was there to set us off and at 4.30 on the dot I wrestled my way into the lake. The start was violent as usual. I seeded myself with the other 10k rejects as I knew they’d be quick. I enjoyed the drafting as long as I could before we were clear of the marina and out into the lake. 

It wasn’t just a little bit choppy. 

Within about a minute I had already taken a face full of water. The wind was behind us and you could feel yourself being lifted by over a foot and then dropped. I felt sick but I was determined to PB on this distance. My previous best mile swim at Loch Lomond in 2015 was 34 minutes. In these conditions I knew I had to push hard. I wanted sub 30 but knew as soon as the first waves hit, that it would be a huge ask of my body. 

I battered on. Literally. Staying wide of the crowd and trying to relax into a fast rhythm. I felt panic on a whole new scale. Every time I lifted my head to sight I was met with a wave. I couldn’t see the beach or the pink buoy that marked half way. There was too much splashing. 

I powered through half way in 14 minutes. But I knew if the wind was behind me on the way out……….. it wisnae gonna be braw heading back. 

Oh. What. An. Understatement. 

As I turned parallel to the beach, the shallows meant the waves were breaking on us. I had to switch from bilateral breathing to LHS only. Even still every time I lifted my chin to sight the next buoy I took a lungfull. One hit me so hard I choked and for the first time in my swimming life , genuinely thought I was in trouble. After a minute of calming myself down, I bashed on relentlessly as swimmers who’d choked badly we’re being pulled from the water around me. I saw at least 3 swimmers get plucked out the waves. 

Heading back towards the finish, I became extremely uncomfortable. The waves were everywhere. Breathing one side was no better than bilateral. It was honestly quite frightening. I knew I was tight for my time so I tried as best I could to keep my pace strong. 

At this point the water is standing depth. Windermere has enough clarity that you can see the Lake bed fairly easily. I was giving it everything I had and the stones beneath me weren’t budging and inch. It was like swimming up a river. The final buoys took an AGE to appear. 

The field was pretty spread out so imagine my shock when, out of nowhere, a man swam over the top of me and then stopped immediately ahead to do breastroke. He narrowly avoided drowning me and kicking me in the head. I’ve always been told not to take anything personally in the swim, but this was total ignorance and despite the conditions he would have been aware of my proximity to him. He may have narrowly missed knocking me out but he did not narrowly miss a mouthful of my best Scottish swearing. What an absolute turd. 

As I reached the finish gantry I broke into as much of a sprint as I had left and clawed my way out of the water only to discover that their ankle chip beepers were not working. A very tired, very fed up volunteer, wrote my name down wrong three times before I was released, bless her. We were both frazzled. I was so genuinely distressed by what I’d just experienced that I almost forgot to collect my finishers pack (GASP). My watch said 30.20. I was gutted. I wanted sub 30 so badly. After the crushing disappointment of losing out on my main achievement, the sub 30 mile had been the next best thing. Sigh. 

I was worried about Brian getting back from Keswick. I knew he’d finished but his legs would be wrecked. His mountain race turned out to be extraordinarily mental. It was as I was climbing up to the changing tent that I felt the tap on my shoulder. And there he was. Bruised and battered and emotionally scarred. Alive though, so bonus. 

I changed, we hoovered (incredible) burgers, and then we trudged back to Waterhead to the van and a shower. 

As we walked, some thoughts began to surface; For the last few months I’ve been questioning my decision not to enter Ironman 70.3 in Edinburgh. I know I can comfortably do those distances but having just experienced actual real waves, I felt overwhelming relief that my gut instinct had said NO. There is not a hope in hell that I’m ever doing a Sea swim in a race. Nope. Fuck that shit. The thought of colder water, salty water at that, in potentially the same level of swell makes me feel sick. Good decision, Bean. And good decision, Great Swim. Safety first. 

Of course, it also dawned on me that I’d just swam a 4 minute PB in the most challenging conditions I have experienced to date. I finally felt like I deserved my medal. Like I’d actually raced. I left everything out there. That was 10/10 for effort from me. 

I still want to swim 10km. Like some kind of mental idiot. I want that achievement. I can do it (in less choppy water……) and I WANT to so……


Oops. 

Endurance swimming isn’t dead to me. I shall not be beaten by the weather! 

One final silver lining to the re-shuffles this weekend was that we were able to spend a day driving into the Yorkshire Dales to visit my grandparents old home. I spent most summers there as a child and hadn’t felt able to return after my granny passed away in 2002. I felt the pull to go back when Grandad died a few years ago now, but this weekend was the first time we were able to visit. 

The family that now own the house welcomed me in with typical Yorkshire hospitality and gave me a tour showing me all the TLC they’d given to that house I loved so much. 

It was emotional but so worth the winding roads.


Ambleside, you’ve been wonderful. ❤️

Hobbled. 

I’m not one to overthink or anything, but…. I’ve been overthinking. 

I know. I. Know. It is not like me at all. 

(Cough)

Things have been going well. Too well. Sure, there’s been some bugs, a bout of shin splints, a projectile vomiting incident and some lost sleep, but largely I’ve been getting the hell on with it and kicking ass everywhere. It’s been ACE. 

This was until I was 500m into Tuesday night’s swim. A gentle push off the wall and OH HOLY CHRIST THAT IS CRAMP. 

Right foot. Shit the bed that hurts. I stop in the middle of the pool. The staff know me well enough now to notice this is not normal behaviour unless I have lane rage and I’m waiting to punch a chopper in the goggles. After a few minutes stood wincing in waist deep water, unable to move, the lad asks if he’s going to need to fish me out. 

Oh how I fucking laughed. But seriously, help. 

About 8 hours later I managed to doggy paddle back to the shallows dragging my misshapen claw-foot behind me. Slightly out of practise, having not had cramp for a few years, I began violently stretching the living shit out of Claw Foot until it eventually returned to its normal form. 

4000m of sporadic cramp later I hauled my carcass out of the water and home to eat the entire contents of the fridge. 

I slept the sleep of a person full of pasta and awoke at 5am to begin my morning ritual of “I HATE BEING A FUCKING ADULT SCREW THIS”. 

I put my feet down and OW. 

What? What?! My right foot felt like someone had driven a rusty stake through its ankle. 

This isn’t good. Try again. 

Nope. Fuck. 

Walking was, at best, a challenge. I hobbled about and managed to make it to work where I spent the day googling “WHY THE FUCK IS MY FOOT BROKEN” and learning about tendons and metatarsals. Self diagnosis was broken everything and ruptured other stuff and basically no more running ever again. Thank you, Dr Google. Serves me fucking right. 

Eventually the pain subsided enough to allow me to make the 100% sensible and not at all stupid decision to GO TO THE GYM AND THEN DO A THRESHOLD RUN. 

Good. Fucking. Work. Bean. 

Somewhat shockingly, this didn’t hurt. 

But when I woke up the next morning it was basically def con 4 south of my ankle. I was not getting away with training through this. 

Thursday was spent in a growing state of utter panic. Marathon in 10 weeks. Cannot walk. Oh god. Kill me. 

It culminated in the most epic meltdown when coach advised NO CARDIO. 

WHAAAAAAAAAAAT. NOOOOOOOOOO. BUT SWIMMING??? No. No swimming. 

Oh, well fucking kill me dead. 

There was ugly crying. There was texting friends telling them that THIS WAS IT I AM GIVING UP FOREVER BYE. 

Eventually Beardy appeared and quite simply stated “your foot’s been sore like a day. Calm the fuck down” 

*sniffles* ok. You’re right. 

No one ever likes to hear the words “no cardio” when they’re training for endurance, but I decided, seeing as I was told to continue weight training, that all would not be lost. 

Terrified of losing all the progress made with running and swimming, I gave myself a pep talk and decided against immediate amputation. It might heal. I’d rather not train for london with a bloody stump. 

So. Now we wait. We ice, elevate and stretch. We have been through WAY worse. Hell, we ran 25 miles out of 26.2 with 6 weeks training last year. #lol 

The swimming ban will hopefully be over inside a week. This is a huge relief. I’m nowhere near as quick as I could be. And certainly no where near ready to swim 10 fucking thousand metres. (What was I thinking) 

Fuck knows when I’ll be able to run on the Claw but I know if I can keep my strength up it won’t take me long to get the run fitness back. 

Onwards, with a limp. 

The Dark. 

“I’ve loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” – Galileo 

I’ve never been a big fan of the dark. I’d happily stargaze forever but I couldn’t do it alone. When I was little, grandad would tell me that it’s never *really* dark. There’s always light to be found if you know where to look for it. That’s true of the sky and that’s true of life. 

Sometimes it gets very dark. And I’m not talking about the winter. Or when you flick a switch in your living room. I’m talking about the type of dark that encircles you. Makes you feel isolated and scared. Makes you feel embarrassed and ungrateful. And makes you want to just lie down and not move. It can come all of a sudden or you can spot it lurking on the horizon and, despite your best efforts to stave it off, it just gets you by the scruff of the neck anyway. 

Over the years, you learn to ride out storms. You try to learn how to know the signs. Sometimes you need someone to show you the best path. Sometimes you need a hand to pick apart your puzzle and help you figure it out. Sometimes you just need to sit in silence with a hand squeezing yours. 

Sometimes it feels like it will never get light again. Sometimes it hurts more to find light than to remain in the dark. But here’s the thing: it will always get light again. It is always there. Even if you don’t look for it it will find its way to you. 

You might, over time, learn to accept the dark. To understand it and not to fear it quite so much. 

As Galileo said of the night, you might learn not to fear the dark so much. You might find your light in the dark. 

Often, darkness has a stigma whereby acknowledging its existence makes you weak. But you’re the opposite of weak. Remember that when you pull yourself out of it for the millionth time. 

Although everyone has light and dark in their lives, it varies. And some are unaffected by their dark. That doesn’t make you less of a whole person. It’s all relative. Remember that. Your battle is yours. 

You are not weak. And it doesn’t stay dark forever. 

The Familiar Twinge

… We’ve all felt it. The pop, tweak or twinge that makes your sweat go cold. That “Oh fuck. Fuck fuck fuck” moment when something you’re doing makes the usual weak spot give way. The moment of silence before the screaming agony works its way through your nerves to your pain receptors.

It’s like seeing a flash of lightening and waiting for the rumble of thunder. Knowing the next coming days or weeks are going to be spent being moderately high on prescription pills.

Here’s some background info for you: I have a weakened spinal column from various injuries sustained as a clumsy child and as a clumsier adult. Nothing serious or life threatening, mostly hairline fractures to vertebrae that healed fast but left me with compressed discs that seem to decide for themselves when they would like to cause me trouble by swelling and trapping various nerves. And that’s just my thoracic spine.

My lumbar spine and sacrum were damaged in a fall down the garden steps 20 years ago. So if it’s not the top of my back getting itself worked up into a frenzy, it’s my lower back that wants to party.

And by party I mean fly sporadically into spasm and make me turn into the actual devil for a week.

Into this cake mix of pain, you can add 20 odd years of avid couch-potatoism, several university years of fudge cake breakfasts (I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss those) and an honours degree in binge drinking and poor life choices.

Basically because of all this neglect, I’m usually only ever one violent sneeze from a trip to the chiropractor.

About 8 years ago, I reached peak-chub. I spent a weekend at T in the Park with my girlfriends and woke up on the Monday unable to walk. “Just a bad hangover” became several trips to doctors, physios and eventually an Osteopath who pointed out the unusually pronounced curvature in my spine, uneven leg-lengths (more so than a normal human my age) and my weight was a factor too. I was ordered to lose weight and shape up or face a lifetime of pain. This lasted until graduation, when the stresses of grown-up life and near constant access to a biscuit tin led me down the same path again. Finally, in 2012, size 16 and very deeply unhappy, I spent 3 months hooked up to a tens machine. The camel’s back had literally given up and I HAD to make a change.

So I did and I’m hoping that I’ve caught these things before it’s too late. Before I’m 50 and confined to the use of a walking stick as my core can’t support itself. You only get one body after all, and I wish I’d spent more time looking after it and treating it with a bit of respect instead of shoveling it full of chips and sambuca.

It’s not been plain sailing, by any means. Quite often, as I travel along this road of athleticism, I am reminded of my weaknesses. Physically and mentally. I’m not patient. Therefore any injury is a massive set back. Even when it isn’t. My back, shoulders, hips and knees are weak. I took on a coach to target these areas and the improvements, especially in recovery time, have been significant. However, injuries can and will appear…

This time, I should’ve seen the signs. I’ve been incredibly stressed with work. I’ve had pressure piled on both there and with my running. I wanted sub 60. So I worked hard and got it. And my body needed a rest. It told me this mid deadlift. Ping. Bastard. Ouch.

Rest it is, then.

Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom. By some amazing happy coincidence (and probably definitely not because her eldest daughter is so terribly afflicted by Clumsius Maximus) my mummy is a therapist of many kinds: Manual Lymphatic Drainage, Bowen, Reflexology and Remedial Massage. Often she’ll be facebooked at 6am. “Help I’m broken can you fit me in today?” SuperMum will then knead and smooth the knots away as best she can.

Since I last experienced chronic back pain 3 years ago, (and by chronic, I mean pain that lasts for months in its acute phase) I have been very proactive in my own muscular rehabilitation. I started gently with beginners Pilates and then introduced walking long distance before even considering running, cycling or reintroducing swimming. Eventually I found a coach determined to make me stronger than ever.

I know too many people who live with varying degrees and types of chronic pain. From my pal who’s shoulder sporadically stops working, to my dad and his plantar fasciitis and my mum with her arthritic knee that popped one night and never recovered.

Pain changes a person. It’s a real test of your personality. It makes you tired. So so tired. And irrational. And irritable. It can even change the way you look.

Personally, my mind goes into overdrive. Self confidence goes through the floor and I HATE not being able to do stuff. I feel lethargic and withdrawn.  Not to mention crabbit as fuck (nothing new there, eh?!).

It saps positivity, even when it only lasts a few days it will leave me exhausted for a week afterwards. It’s horrid.

Pain management becomes key. I’ve learnt, through years of experience, how to manage different types of pain and more importantly *when* to manage. Niggles are the bane of every athletes life and will often disperse on their own. Some muscular pain, I’ve found, is best treated with gentle exercise. Other pain is definitely meant to be left the hell alone. I’m a fan of foam rolling as a way to improve mobility and conditioning in muscles and to iron out knots. It’s not for everyone and I know some of you reading this will tut and say you’ve never needed it. But it helps me and doesn’t do any harm.

I’m keeping everything crossed that this latest relapse buggers off soonest so that I can race my favourite race on Saturday. Although I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that I may have to DNS for the second time this year. *Sulks*

A Blog About Boobs 

Ha! That got your attention… This *is* a product review. Hopefully a good one. And definitely not for boys. Soz.

A while back, I wrote a blog about boobs which prompted global* outcry and immediately millions** of women sought out a correctly fitting bra because of my blog. I know. I just change lives.

*very small Twitter based chat.

** about 7

It was therefore quite unexpected and lovely when the kind folks at Shockabsorber got in touch to ask if I’d review their Run Bra for them. I’ve never been asked to do that before. I was slightly hesitant due to accidentally clicking through to some very dull and uninformative review blogs over the years… But I do love this product…
Let us kick things off with a picture of said Run Bra:


I know what you’re thinking… But sorry, it’s not me in that picture. Because I categorically do not look attractive while running. Also I live in Scotland. I need 8 layers of thermals over my run bra.

Getting Fitted
First of all, let me remind you ladies, no matter your size, it is VITAL (shouty capitals for emphasis…) that you always wear a correctly fitted bra. *adopts geek voice* Especially when you are engaging in physical activities… Get yourselves fitted, by a trained fitter and try some bras out. Everyone is different and every brand has a different fit. This means that often trial and error is the best way.

A good fitter will measure you but use their eye and intuition to find you the ideal fit. It’s not always as simple as whipping out a measuring tape…
How do I know this, you ask? Because it’s my job. I was trained to fit bras at 16 and I’ve worked with every leading brand in the subsequent 12 years. So you can trust me, I knows my stuffs.

The Bra
The Run Bra keeps The Girls strapped down and safe and is really very comfy. They don’t chafe or shift about and the fabric lining to the cups wicks sweat (boob sweat is the WORST) also, aesthetically, it gives you a nice shape without flattening you entirely. #BanTheShelfBoob

There is only one minor drawback to this bra: when you are in a rush, or not, or sweaty, or not, it is the single hardest thing to get on over your head. And you DEFINITELY need to put it on over your head. Because trying to fasten the upper clasp when it’s on is basically the equivalent of trying to fly an aircraft while cooking an 8 course meal.

Here’s a snap to show you the clasp…

I have spent many frustrated minutes in a swimming pool changing room cursing at it as it twists itself and sticks to my skin meaning my head is kind of caught and my arms are stuck out at odd angles.
However. PERSEVERE. Once it’s on its comfort-all-the-way. And your heart rate is up from all the swearing and hauling of stuff so hey! You’re warmed up!

The bra is unwired, which used to scare me because traditionally, unwired means that your boobs don’t get as much of a robust support. But actually it adds to the comfort and it means your Garmin HR strap (that’s a heart rate strap, not a row of Personnel managers, and other brands are available and probably work better…) will sit tucked under it slightly.

At the moment, the Shockabsorber Run bra is only available up to a DD cup. I’d like to see them push this up to the bigger cup sizes. If you are more generous-of-boob than this, check out Shockabsorber’s Active Classic D+ sports bra (up to a FF) or Panache Sport (it’s a formed cup and is available both wired and non-wired) which goes up to a GG.
Price
Price wise, Shockabsorber are pretty competitive and are stocked by most online sports retailers and department stores. If you shop around you can get some pretty decent prices on the “core” colours (black and white) and on previous fashion colours. Best deals I’ve seen are from around £22 up to £35. I would always recommend you did invest in a decent brand like Shockabsorber.

Competition 

There are arguments that the sports ‘houses’ like Nike and Adidas have sport at their core so really understand how the body moves. However, from actual proper wearer and fitter experience, stick with the lingerie specific brands.

One of the things which makes this product unique, is that the research conducted by Shockabsorber shows that your breasts actually move in a figure of 8 pattern when you are up and about which, if left unsupported, stretches and irreversibly damages the Cooper’s ligaments attaching the breast tissue to the muscle. Trust me when I say Nike and Adidas are purely trend driven. They look nice but when they are put to the test, if you’re any bigger than an AA cup you’re not getting ‘sturdy’ enough support.

Hahaha. Sturdy. Makes it sound like some kind of girdle. A boob girdle.

User Experience

I’ve worn the Shockabsorber Run bra for weights, running, cycling, yoga and Pilates. The weird looking back panels are actually very comfy to lie on. You don’t notice them. They can twist though so make sure they’re in the right position once the bra is on.

This was also my bra of choice for the Aberfeldy Middle Distance triathlon. I opted to wear it under my tri suit beneath my wetsuit. It dried very fast and there is enough flex and arm room to prevent restrictions on the swim.
Then there’s the colours! I have owned black and white. But lingerie buying, generally, is quite a monochrome experience. I was delighted to receive the black/pink version above.

So! Overall, I’d emphasise the importance of a good, correct fit in your sports bras, girls. This is on of my favourites. But it might not be YOURS. So please go and try some and jump about like a loon in the fitting room (seriously. Make sure The Girls stay put) and find out what suits your shape and sport.

*insert mermaid emoji here*

It is hard to describe the cold shock of open water swimming. Imagine an air temperature of 12-15 degrees. Not that cold, is it? You probably need a hoodie but not a coat…

12-15 degrees (Celsius. Not farenheight, Americans) feels*quite* different in water. 

Growing up in an old house, I’m familiar with how cold the shower goes when someone turns on a hot tap somewhere in the house. This felt like 4-5 degrees at the time. Actually it was probably closer to 12-15.

For those of you lucky enough never to have experienced Showerus Interruptus, I can only liken the shock of the cold against your skin to accidentally planting a bare arse cheek against cold shower glass at 6am on a Tuesday. The “FUCKSAKESTHATSCOLD” dance. Except you can’t escape. Because you’re getting into a Loch to swim for a mile.

So! Fresh from my dismay and subsequent relief of a shortened swim at Aberfeldy Middle Distance two weeks previously, I was very excited to give my wetsuit what will probably be its farewell for 2015. And what better place to celebrate a year of athletic adventure than Loch Lomond.

I’ve always been a fish. I swam competitively from the age of “small” and I have a large box of gold medals, ribbons and certificates somewhere. I guess I was just a natural. Like a wind up toy that starts kicking and pulling as soon as you let it go. I LOVED swimming and then did it so much that the love dwindled and the flame flickered out for 10 years.

A whole 1/3 of my life later, I’ve rekindled the flame. And it’s wonderful.

I have a buddy who’s done the Great Scottish Swim for YEARS (he’s really old) and he’d waxed lyrical about it so much that I promised myself, as a post Feldy present to me from me, I’d enter and swim the mile if I was uninjured. I AM uninjured. Happy days!

You can swim 1/2mile, 1 mile, 2 miles or 5k. I *could* have done 2 miles. But cold. And I’m not insane enough for 5km. 1 mile it was. And I loved every chilly second.

My other half realised at Feldy that if you’re not particularly in to the type of sport you’re watching, waiting 4 hours for your girlfriend to finish is BORING. So I knew he’d probably sooner drink loch water than watch people swim in it for ages. I came up with an idea that he and his dad could take their cyclocrosses up the West Loch Lomond cycle route while I swam and faffed about. This worked out well. They had fun. And although the beastly headwind held them up on the way back (not that I was worried at all…) the scenery was gorgeous. Good plan, Bean.

As I changed in the tent, a girl came in with her friend who hadn’t coped with the cold at all. It took about 4 layers of coats and towels and 3 of us rubbing her feet and back under a hot air blower to make her start to feel human. She was lovely. I hope she’s ok now. That’s what the cold does to some.

Changed and ready, I ditched my bags and headed to the start.

I was in the 11.30 Orange wave. We were called to check-in, numbers written on our hands, chips beeped and let into the starting pen. Cameras filmed us, all rubber clad in our silly hats, the presenter was chatting away to us all. It was calm! Then they announced that Acclimatisation was open. You’re allowed in a bit to get a feel for the cold. Did anyone step forward? Did they fuck. Except Bean.

“Excuse me. Step aside. Thank you”

Ever the pro. I jumped in and it was fine. IT WAS FINE. (It was fucking FREEZING) It’s always a shock. I splash my face and neck first. But the bit where it goes down your back is the WORST. Ok. In. Quick splash. Quick float. Out.

Then 10 minutes of trying not to get cold back in the start pen.

Ross Murdoch and Robbie Renwick started our wave. That was ace. I watched the swimming at the commonwealth games and the Olympics religiously. They were interviewed, wished us luck and fired the air horns to start our wave.

There were some clearly very experienced and speedy looking swimmers in my wave. So I kept wide and to the middle.

This turned out to be shite planning because a lot of the “speedsters” we’re, in fact, total pansies that got to the water and did a weird mini breaststroke thing. I had to pick my way through two dozen or so of them before I found some clear water and got on with the business of swimming.

It was so busy in the start chute that at one point a man stood up and shouted “NO” at someone who’d swum over him.

I didn’t notice the cold after 100m or so. I got into my rhythm pretty quick. Pull pull pull breathe right, pull pull pull breathe left. Minimal kicking. Save the legs. I was overtaking. Lots of overtaking. I was approaching a neon wetsuit who, when I was to his left about 4 ft behind must have switched to Breastroke as I suddenly received a kick to the chest so violent that I got a lung full of water and had to take a minute to calm the fuck down.

Once over the shock, I battled on. Sighting every 12th breath or so. I spotted what I thought was the turn buoy. I’d been swimming for what felt like eternity. It’s a funny almost rectangular shaped course. 1 lap is all. Easy. But that turn buoy turned out to be just a course marker and I still had the same distance to swim again. Bollocks.

By the time I reached the turn buoy, the waves were making me feel a bit pukey. Id never swum so far out in such a deep loch before. The course at Loch Tay was short and pretty shallow so there wasn’t a swell. The waves weren’t high but you could feel them building. As I turned to swim across the loch to the half way buoy, the waves were hitting my left side. I switched to right side breathing every fourth stroke and that kept me calm and balanced. Breathing every two strokes is too frequent for me. I’m a calm swimmer. Despite my splashy sprints, over long distance I like to slow my stroke down.

The half way buoy appeared and I knew I could finally start to push speed a bit. I kicked a bit more and concentrated on pulling myself through the water with some strength. I had to dodge swimmers who were from two waves previous to mine. And then two kayaks helping someone who’d come into difficulty. When I spotted the finish buoys and timing pontoon I knew it was time to hit the accelerator. I engaged my actually pretty strong kick and overtook 4-5 people before stumbling out of the loch, rather unglamorously to to beep my chip, confirm my name (which I almost forgot through water confusion) and find my finishers pack.

I asked, and was told my time. Which I immediately forgot. And then staggered deliriously to the changing tent in a torrential downpour to get warm and dry.

Once dressed, I checked my phone and discovered that Ironman was about somewhere. @ironpugsley was swimming the 5k (certifiably insane) so I wandered off to find him. Yet again it was the Oakleys I spotted first. Big hug. Lovely catch up. Brilliant. I showed off my bling and let slip that id turned up to an event in my Aberfeldy finishers tshirt WHICH I STILL HATE THAT I CANNOT WEAR TO WORK. After a good laugh and some encouragement for my mental friend, I began the 10 mile hike to the car.

The boys had had a fun adventure and were both pretty shattered which meant I volunteered to drive Mike’s BMW home. Fun!

Everyone got a nap except me, I think. And it’s 6am the following day and I’m STILL buzzing.

Because I wasn’t shit. I checked my time when I got back. 34:42. That’s ok! 115th. Oh. There were only a couple of hundred in my wave.

Wait. It’s out of 1000??? Oh!!! And 20th in my gender age? Out of how many? 187?

Bloody hell.

What if I hadn’t been kicked? Or placed myself further up the pack??!! Or stopped to take in the view?

Amazing.

Best day out. Loved every second. Next year I’ll consider two miles. Maybe.

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Seven. Days. To. Go.

If I think back to when I started this journey, I don’t think I’d ever have seen myself sitting in a hotel, with 7 days to go until my first tri, writing lists of things to remember to take with me.

I’ve changed so much that I’m almost unrecognisable to myself now. I mean, I’ve always liked lists, but physically and psychologically I feel like I’m a different person. Stronger in both respects. Hardier. More of a “doer” than a “nah. It’s cool. I can’t be arsed” type.

Endurance has completely changed me. It’s given me self-belief and the ability to shed renewed perspective on stressful situations. “Honestly this is not as shit as cycling in hail into a headwind”… I still freak the fuck out every now and then, but it’s easier for me to cope at work, where my workload has grown exponentially in the last 2 years.

I’ll never claim to be an expert in this stuff, I’m really only trying to get by and have fun, but I’ve learnt a lot about how *not* to do things. And that if things go tits up it’s ok, really.

I’ve stopped worrying about DNF and technical failures. Sort of. I know I can change a tube. I know I can fix basic problems on the bike. I know the run will suck. I know I’ll punch myself in the face at least twice while removing my wet suit. And I’m ok with all of that.

Now it’s just me, 7 full-on days of work and then a half iron distance swim-bike-run next Sunday.

Easy, right?

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. If I had to be completely truthful, I am largely shitting myself. Everyone keeps telling me not to worry, but I’d rather be nervous than not. This MEANS something to me. This is MY fight. MY time spent running in the snow, cycling into permanent gale-force head winds and swimming in 11 degree lochs full of Tesco trolleys. This is MY sacrificed social life. MY “sorry I’m bloody training AGAIN” texts to my VERY patient friends and family. I’ll be a bit pissed off if I don’t finish it. Purely because WHAT A WASTE OF A YEAR… Even though I’m at least 80% more ace than I was last year… So there’s that I suppose.

If I wasn’t nervous I’d question why I’d done all this hard work.

I’ve had the opportunity to raise some funds for a really brilliant charity  and I’ve met the most amazing people. I’d not change ANYTHING about this adventure.

Well. Maybe less falling off stuff.

I keep being asked what’s next? I’d kind of like to say I want to get this one out of the way first, but plans are forming in my head. I have loved triathlon training. Really truly. Well. Ok maybe less 5am sessions would be nice, but honestly I have loved watching my body change and the improvements in speed and agility have been amazing.

I remember back when I started training for the marathon, my buddy told me “it doesn’t get easier, you just get faster” and I’m starting to feel that happen now.

What was “race pace” over a 10k before is now a gentle effort. That’s huge for me.

I managed to pull an 18mph ave speed out of the bag over an hours ride last night. That’s a massive improvement (that’s NOT my Feldy pace… I’d die)

So it’s all coming together nicely. I’m actually enjoying “taper”. I’ve only really thrown one strop so far. And it was justified (I don’t even WANT to get into it).

I’m so goal orientated that it makes sense to give myself targets for the next year. I struggle without a Plan A. So once Feldy is done and dusted, I’ll start researching my next moves. (I’ve already decided but shhhh….)

So. 7 days to go. Bring it.

#SheBelievedSheCouldSoSheDid

The Exciting Thing

Today something magical happened. 

You all know of my struggle since Marathon. The damage to my hips has been significant enough to make even walking slightly Quasimodo-esque. Running has been out of the question and also largely banned by physio. Initially, it looked like running would never ever be the same. But…

Last week, I was told to try running. Gently. For a short distance. Today I did it. 

1 mile. 9:52. Mild discomfort only. I felt exactly the same elation as I did when I finished the Marathon. Except more because I wasn’t actually dying and it wasn’t the middle of a thunder storm and my sister wasn’t making me cry. 

This enormous victory happened because of one major thing: I’m a determined little bastard. 

Competitive? Me? NO!

This determination stems from my very VERY competitive nature. I’m the worst kind of competitive. I will go out of my way to win if I can. And I’m competitive with MYSELF. A good example would be a new phenomenon I’ve discovered since re-kindling my Swimming Love. 

Picture the scene: You dip into the water. You’re ready. Garmin set to Swim mode. In your peripheral vision you spot a swimmer of a similar age/build. They are head to toe in club kit. They mean business. They’ve seen you look. They know you’ve clocked them. DAMMIT. You’re already weak. So you swim. You swim hard. Fast. Relentlessly. 8 hard years of turn practice and  stroke perfection coming back to you. You overtake. A lot. Then they start to gain on you. So you push a bit harder. You’ve surpassed your planned distance for the session. You care not. YOU WILL WIN. 

Absurd. But awesome. And yes. I won.

The Determination

One thing I’ve learnt about myself over the last 6 months is that I am a lot stronger mentally than I ever thought I was. It takes a special kind of grit to push yourself to run a 5:40:16 Marathon and still be able to function at the end. (I use the term “function” VERY VERY loosely. I basically ate Pringles and Bananas constantly for 2 hours while crying like a toddler) 

It takes an even greater mental strength to realise at 5:05 hrs that you have not a hope in hell of finishing sub 5 or even sub 5:30. And when that moment is in a deserted street in Prestonpans while you stretch your seized quad beside a man dressed as a smurf, that feels pretty damn bleak. I tell you.

I wanted to run a marathon for me. I wanted to do something good with it, so I did. I helped a wonderful charity. I wanted to run a marathon to prove a point. That I COULD. I was fed up of being chubby, of telling myself I couldn’t do things. Or that I wouldn’t. I needed to change that and I am so so happy that I did. 

There’s a song on repeat on Radio 1 at the moment, and if you can get past the fact that it’s a wildly overproduced pop-fest with a slightly chavvy edge, the lyrics stick in my head…. 

“I never held back from the edge
We all hit the same line in the end
But I don’t wanna fall down too soon
Take every moment I can with you
Not over till we’re in the clear
Hold tight and let go of the fear
All the trouble we’ve left behind
We’re not gonna get home tonight”

Here’s a link to the audio… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ES8U9phh0SE

It just makes me think, I’ve let go of so much negativity and self-doubt. I actually heard myself speaking to a colleague today saying “the only thing standing in the way of you doing something, is yourself” and that is so true. Loads of people have scoffed and said “there’s no way you’d run a marathon” and “if you’re this injured do you really think you’ll ever do another one?” and I’ve realised a bit that those people don’t matter. You can do things to prove the haters wrong, and it’s a happy by-product of achieving your ambitions, but in the end, DO IT FOR YOU.

I can and WILL be #RunnerBean once more. I can and WILL be #TriathlonBean within a year. 

 

Bring. It. On. 

 

 

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And So It Continues…

This blog isn’t going on sabbatical until my next mission….

… Because I’m already on it.

I’d quietly, to myself, decided that I’d do another marathon before I ran 18 miles in training and somewhat significantly damaged the ligaments in my left hip, and then ended up with a rather severe bout of tonsillitis which I think pretty much screwed the rest of my training and left me an exhausted, antibiotic fuelled wreck for taper.

Then I entered the ballot for VLM2015 and told everyone. Big fucking thumbs up, Bean.

This gives me until October when it’s revealed whether or not I’ve made the cut, to get my hip better and focus on another mission. #TriathlonBean

Yep. I can feel my non-athletic friends rolling their eyes.

For me it’s not about winning, or being the fastest, or the fittest. Let’s face it, none of those are a realistic ambition. However, having shed the two stone I’d gained in my early twenties, I now need to be the fittest and leanest that I can be, for me. (Also, I like medals. I like them A LOT)

I went for my first swim speed test last week. I swam 1000m Front Crawl in just under 23minutes. Good pace. I felt strong and my technique hadn’t lost it’s edge despite the 12 year hiatus. That’s the benchmark set. I want to get to 20 minutes.

The cycling is getting faster. And I’m almost never encountering instant brain-death now. I’m bound to my MTB until such time as 1) I no longer dodge death once per ride 2) my road bike is built 3) I’m no longer terrified of clippies.

The only thing missing is running. And I miss it very, very much. Despite my initially troublesome relationship with running, it didn’t take me long to fall for it. I dropped music on long runs and enjoyed peaceful birdsong and the shade of the trees. I make it sound heavenly and problem free, which of course it wasn’t. However, the health benefits (pain aside) have been significant and it’s lead me to some amazing places and brilliant people.

I’m very lucky that most people I know are incredibly supportive. But I get a lot of concerned questions whenever I discuss my athletic ambitions.

“Aren’t you worried you will lose too much weight?” – no. Carbs are my friend. I love them too dearly to be bony.

“Are you mental?” – duh.

But the most frequent is this: “are you a bit addicted to exercise?”

I can now fully understand why people become addicted to exercising. I’ve found it incredibly hard both emotionally and physically to have to cut out running. If I don’t, I risk permanent damage to my hip until it’s repaired and strengthened. There is no accurate time frame for this, which for a control freak like me is VERY DIFFICULT. Also, it fucking hurts. But I feel like I fucking NEED to run. I threw a massive paddy last week when my quad and calf cramped just as I was getting into a fast lap of Loch Leven on the bike. Don’t think OH was *quite* prepared for waterworks combined with “FUCK SAKE I NEED TO BE ABLE TO THIS”

Is this what the Marathon has done to me? Am I now destined to wander the earth in search of the next endurance event to throw myself into?

I have my limits. I think. I just need to find out what they are….